Thanks to free engineering assistance provided by the NASA-funded Space Alliance Technology Outreach Program (SATOP), an Alabama hotel has solved a baffling moisture issue to become mold free.

SATOP provides free engineering assistance to small businesses with technical challenges through the expertise of the program’s Alliance Partners, 50 aerospace companies and universities involved in the U.S. Space Program. In Florida, SATOP is operated by the Technological Research and Development Authority (TRDA).

Mold has been a construction issue in the southeastern United States for years, but during the past decade the industry has taken an aggressive stance and started developing methods to effectively combat the prolific allergen.

The 169-room Holiday Inn Huntsville West I-565, built in 1985, and its sister property, the 157-unit Hampton Inn University, Huntsville, built in 1986, are northern Alabama hotel franchises that have experienced the region’s typical humidity and mold issues.

The first telltale sign of mold emerged as pink stains behind the Holiday Inn’s vinyl guest room wallpaper in 2002, after a $2.5 million property-wide renovation, said Debbie Newman, operations/area manager for the two properties.

Several of the renovations – heavier grade vinyl wall coverings, a new kitchen hood in the hotel’s restaurant, an oversized air conditioning unit in the hotel lounge and modified guest room exhaust fans – created negative air pressure throughout the hotel, unbeknownst to the management. “The heavy wallpaper and its paste let the mold grow before we saw signs of it. And when we increased the guest room exhaust fan size, we were drawing in more fresh, humid air which only fed the negative air pressure. The whole hotel was out of balance,” said Newman.

Half a dozen experts, including the original contractor, attempted to find a solution. During a corrective renovation in 2003, the hotel spent another $1 million, with $700,000 devoted directly to eradicating the mold. Meanwhile, guest room closings cost $280,000 in year-to-year occupancy revenues, she said. But the situation persisted.

Luckily, one of the chain’s general managers in Florida had similar issues and had used SATOP. Afterwards, he sent a mass email to fellow Southeastern hoteliers recommending the outreach program.

“SATOP was so professional,” said Newman. “They were totally unbiased and we knew we could trust their recommendations.”

Herman Harris, a mechanical engineer (Designer III) at Space Gateway Support (SGS), a SATOP Alliance Partner, tackled the problem. SGS is a space industry company that contracts launch support operations for NASA, the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy, and is the city manager for Cape Canaveral Spaceport.

Harris, a heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) expert, applied a “layered approach” to the hotel’s dilemma. There were several conference calls with the property’s general manager and maintenance staff, who forwarded him building drawings and model numbers on existing HVAC equipment.

Harris then ran a computer cooling/heating load analysis to determine what equipment they needed and searched the Internet to compare the features and capabilities of their existing equipment. Finally, he developed spreadsheets recommending the proper equipment to install to correct the hotel’s pressure imbalance. He explained the HVAC code to them and how it applied to their system, and gave them a list of common HVAC design system considerations for humid climates.

“Sometimes there are several issues, especially with buildings designed a number of years ago,” Harris said of the hotel’s “combo platter” of problems. “It takes a particular mindset to design an HVAC system for humid, wet environments. You can’t design the same building in the South as up North. But you can fix the issue with the right recommendations.”

Newman was so pleased with SATOP’s advice that she’s also impleme